The much-reported Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) strike in protest of cynical changes to university staff pension arrangements begins next week. The UEA branch of UCU and UEA Students’ Union have produced this statement for The Norwich Radical, to offer an introduction to the issues surrounding the strike. The Radical encourages all students, in Norwich and elsewhere, to stand in solidarity with the strikers by not attending classes on the dates of the strikes, and by sharing their message with your peers.
From February 22nd, members of the University and College Union (UCU) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) will begin 14 days of strike action. This is in response to changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the pension scheme that the majority of academic staff in pre-1992 universities are members of. These changes will result in significant reductions in many workers’ pension entitlements, to the tune of about £200,000 over the retirement period.
The biggest change is the movement from a defined benefit (DB) scheme to a defined contribution (DC) one. In a DB scheme it is known in advance what pension benefits will be; in a DC one this is at the whim of stock markets and investments. UCU members are clear they value the certainty of a DB scheme, with many signalling they are happy to make larger personal contributions to a pension pot if this can be guaranteedThat these changes will disproportionately affect early career academics is one of the things that makes them so invidious. They are evidence of a sector unwilling to invest in the future of the profession, abandoning the next generation to the whim of the markets. It is also an abandonment of the social contract in which generations look after one another – a contract which, ironically, underpins the social goods of research and teaching that universities engage in. If universities are meant to be places that show the value of education, and encourage students to be active, engaged citizens, how can they simultaneously abandon that younger generation to poorer pensions?
It is for this reason that UCU and student bodies stand side-by-side on this issue. The National Union of Students (NUS) supports the strike action, as does UEA Student Union (UEA SU). UCU is clear that its dispute is not with students, which is why it is working with UEA SU to develop multiple alternative student-staff activities over the strike period. Both unions accept the value and importance of investing in people, whether student or staff.
This dispute occurs against the backdrop of significant changes in universities in the UK, including rising tuition fees, the introduction of the Office for Students, and the imposition of swathes of metrics that have made upholding the core values of universities difficult. UCU has seen its membership rise during the weeks since the announcement of the USS changes, showing how academic staff are energised over this issue. In the coming weeks of action, UCU, NUS and UEA SU stand together, united to fight for the vital social roles of education, teaching and research now and in the future.
Feature image courtesy of UCU
The Norwich Radical is non-profit and run by volunteers. All funds raised help cover the maintenance costs of our website, as well as contributing towards future projects and events. Please consider making a small contribution to fund a better media future.